Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Of politics and sausage

As they say, making legislation is like making sausage. There's a final product, but you surely don't want to see the ugly process of it being made.

I'm reminded of that old adage thanks to the political horse-trading that's going on, now that the election numbers are in and the presidential wannabes are all jostling for position. Kalla and Wiranto, SBY and take your pick of Boediono, Megawati, Prabowo, or even the Sultan of Yogyakarta.

It's all a bit unseemly, much like New York Governor David Paterson's recent botched selection of a senator to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In fact the governor was so damaged by the affair that his career may never recover.

Food for thought, that such political negotiations should always be delicate and behind closed doors, never conducted as a virtual wrestling match. The public may know that politicians are craven and grasping creatures, but we'd rather not witness it in action.

Today's Top Stories

Talk about bad timing

Anticorruption chief up on murder charges

The rupiah, back from the dead

VW plans new Indonesia plant

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lombok, getting on my nerves

Someone please stab me in the eye.

Look, I love Lombok as much as the next guy. But the western media's obsession with 'The Next Bali' story is starting to rub me the wrong way. To wit, here's the latest version from Forbes. The trope goes thusly: Bali and its execrable Kuta Beach are overrun with hammered (usually Australian) tourists, therefore it's time to look to other undiscovered islands in the archipelago ... and hey, there's Lombok right next door. Write it up!

If I see one more article like this I'm going to go postal. First of all, Lombok is not as 'undiscovered' as clueless feature editors would have you believe. Second, this story is about 20 years old. Third, there are 14,000 other islands that could use a bit of the spotlight (and accompanying tourist dollars), not just Lombok.

So editors of the world, take note. Of course print journalism is dying a quick death anyways, so this message may get to you a little too late.

Today's Top Stories

World crisis slamming poor

Impressive showing during economic catastrophe

Botched cafe bombing snares Osama wannabes

Golkar, PDI-P, PPP, others form big coalition

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Election 2009: Lessons Learned

Now that we've had some time to digest the numbers - 'quantitative analysis,' they call it in the investment world - we can draw some conclusions from the recent Indonesian elections. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that there was no real surprise.

President SBY's party came out on top, an event predicted by most polls in the runup. What wasn't quite as foreseen was the significant slump borne by the main opposition parties, like Golkar and Megawati's PDI-P. Late in election seasons most populations shift back to the status quo instead of the great unknown, and this time was no different. But the sub-20% showings were particularly crippling.

No wonder it looks like Megawati is reaching out to former Gen. Prabowo Subianto as a running mate, desperate to glean any possible support. But unless a political earthquake arrives in short order, SBY looks to cruise to victory.

Today's Top Stories

Indonesia on alert for flu pandemic

Indo is region's worst greenhouse-gas emitter, says ADB

Global caliphate will have to wait

Presidential challenge leads to rift

Monday, April 6, 2009

Election 2009: It's he-ere!

It seems like the buildup has been forever- although not quite as long as the interminable American version - but the elections are finally imminent. Glory glory hallelujah.

Consensus is that the party of the generally inoffensive SBY will prevail, although polls have been fairly close in recent weeks. The 'Intelligence Unit' of the venerable Economist magazine predicts as much here, although noting that he'll be under rising pressure in coming months thanks to a global economy that's been brought to its knees.

The electoral process will likely be a messy event, given the huge population and the thousands of far-flung islands we're talking about. But let's have a glass-half-full moment, and appreciate the fact that Indonesia has evolved from a longtime dictatorship to a thriving democracy within a few short years. Not many countries in the world can pull off such a jarring transition - witness Russia, which has backslid to the times of yore - but Indonesia has. In that spirit, hats off to the victors, whoever that turns out to be.

Today's Top Stories

24 perish in fireball

SBY crosses his fingers

Indonesia trying to stay ahead of global slowdown

Tensions simmering in eastern province

Thursday, April 2, 2009

And the winner is ... Megawati's party?!

Heed well the old children's fable of the tortoise and the hare. Because with just a week to go before the general elections, a new poll bombshell has Megawati's party pulling ahead.

For months President SBY and his Democratic party have been mopping the floor with rivals in most polls. But this survey by the Strategic Centre for Development and Policy Review has the party of Sukarno's daughter - noted for her particular fondness for cooking and gardening, not so much for her policy brilliance - ahead by a half-point, with SBY's cohorts second and Golkar a close third.

All of them, crucially, fall short of the 20% barrier to nominate a presidential candidate on their own. So may the horse-trading begin in the nation's political backrooms, because it looks like we're in for some delicious chaos. That's democracy, in all its beautiful messiness.

Today's Top Stories

Don't mess with the God of Good Luck

Elections more about music than smart policy

Suitable for lining birdcages

Poachers win; only 3,000 left in wild

Monday, March 30, 2009

Favorite Place on Earth

If there's anyone who knows something about travel, it's Arthur Frommer. The creator of the Frommer's travel-guide series has been to just about every nook and cranny in the world. His favorite of them all, though? None other than Bali.

We find this out courtesy of a new book from National Geographic, "My Favorite Place on Earth," where assorted celebrities let us in on their secret haunts. Other favored spots: The Simpsons creator Matt Groening likes Kauai, Hawaii, while Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler prefers Nepal - and designer Isaac Mizrahi singles out good old Brooklyn. (Big ups!)

As for myself, I'd have to say Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Martinique in the Caribbean, and India's Varanasi. And, of course, my hometown of Vancouver, Canada and my host village of Kota Intan in Indonesia's Riau province.

So, how about you?

Today's Top Stories

No to changing nationalities

Environment minister headed to DC

Overseer offers to resign

Secret spy network hit 103 countries

Friday, March 27, 2009

Food riots as global phenomenon?

The global economic crisis has made "pessimism porn" something of a favorite pastime these days. More and more publications are talking up apocalyptic scenarios like food and water shortages, devalued currencies, and huge spikes in crime rates as old orders break down. (Great piece in the New Yorker recently that should be required reading.)

Poorer countries have some familiarity with phenomena like food riots, since when you're living close to the poverty line, even slight changes in commodity prices can be the difference between eating and not eating. Hence situations like Haiti, where elements of the government fell when food prices got out of hand.

Indonesia too has seen some isolated food rioting in recent years, and there could be more to come depending on how deep this crisis goes. But when you hear experts talking about such possibilities in America, it's time to rethink your assumptions about the world. Here's forecaster Gerald Celente on the possibility of social breakdown in the US itself, not just the so-called Third World.

Even level-headed writers like Peggy Noonan are being told by expert buddies to start growing their own food and stockpile gold coins. Rewind to 2007, and who would've thought any of this craziness would come to pass?

Today's Top Stories

52 killed, search for missing underway

Indonesia likes Chinese idea

Second time in just a month

Rebel leader in Papua raises passions